France, Relations with

views updated May 29 2018


FRANCE, RELATIONS WITH. In the seventeenth century the French explored and colonized much of the future United States. They claimed an area stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains and named it Louisiana in honor of their king, Louis XIV, who had established French supremacy on the European continent. France was soon contending directly with England for dominance in the New World. They fought a long series of European wars, many of which, beginning in 1689, were extended to American ground. At the end of the French and Indian War (1754–1763), the decisive struggle between the French and the British for control of the North American continent, France had been defeated by the British and their colonists. By the Treaty of Paris of 1763, all of the French lands east of the Mississippi became British, and the French possessions west of the Mississippi were ceded to Spain.

Two Revolutions

Eager to gain revenge for this defeat, France became the strongest ally of the American colonies in their war for independence. A number of prominent Americans traveled to Paris to enlist help from the French. Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. minister in Paris and very popular in France, was instrumental in obtaining arms, ammunition, and food for the American army and in bringing about the 1778 French-American alliance.

The Marquis de Lafayette, a nineteen-year-old officer in the French cavalry, who was among the young French aristocrats and intellectuals inspired by republican idealism and the American cause, arranged with Silas Deane, the American agent in Paris, to enter service on the side of the revolutionaries as a major general. Because the war was going badly for the Americans, the French king forbade Lafayette to leave the country. A determined Lafayette departed anyway, escaping British efforts to seize him.

Lafayette served General George Washington and the American Revolution well. After fighting in a number of important battles, he joined Washington and the French military officer, the Comte de Rochambeau, to overcome the British general, Lord Cornwallis, in the climactic Battle of Yorktown in 1781. The French navy also played a crucial part in that battle by keeping the British navy at bay, thereby preventing any reinforcements from reaching Cornwallis, who was forced to surrender.

The American Revolution became the model for the French Revolution. When Lafayette returned to Paris he became active in politics and on 11 July 1789, as vice president of the National Assembly, he presented a declaration of rights based on the American Declaration of Independence. He participated in the early stages of the French Revolution but resisted the chaos into which it deteriorated. While the Americans had sought a democracy under an orderly government with the power to protect the rights of the majority, the French sought an absolute democracy with no limits on individual liberty. The failure of French democracy lead to the Napoleonic Wars and rule by an emperor.

The Jay Treaty and the Quasi-War

The United States, a fledgling nation trying to pursue a policy of neutrality, came perilously close to war, first with Britain and then with France, in the last decade of the eighteenth century. War erupted between France and Britain in 1793. Despite the American Revolution, old bonds with the British, based on a common language and culture and bloodlines, endured—especially in the North, which was also heavily dependent on the British mercantile system. Pro-French feeling was strongest in the South and among Jefferson's Republicans. The United States preferred to trade with both nations, but the British blockaded France and her colonies and began seizing American ships transporting goods to French ports. War with Britain was averted as a result of the Jay Treaty (1795), but war with France then became the problem.

France denounced the Jay Treaty as a violation of the French-American alliance of 1778 and began full scale attacks on American merchant ships. By the summer of 1797 the French had seized more than three hundred. When President John Adams sent Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry to Paris, the French minister of foreign affairs, the Duc de Talleyrand, refused to negotiate with them. Instead, he designated three agents, whom the Americans called X, Y, and Z. The Americans were shocked when these three demanded a large bribe before they would negotiate. The Americans refused. War fever seized the country with rumors circulating of an imminent French attack. The Republicans blamed Adams for insulting the French in the past and thus causing the impasse, but they ceased wearing the tricolor cockade of France in their hats. Adams increased American military strength. Napoleon, however, did not want to fight the United States, and Talleyrand sent word in 1799 that American envoys would be welcomed in Paris. An 1800 treaty ended the Quasi-War, and the French-American alliance was nullified.

The Nineteenth Century: Relations with Imperial and Republican France

Peace with France made the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 possible. After France reacquired Louisiana from Spain in 1800, Thomas Jefferson became alarmed at the threat of powerful France on the United States's western border. Jefferson sent Robert R. Livingston, the American minister in Paris, to buy West Florida and New Orleans from France for $10 million. Napoleon, who now realized that Britain could easily seize any French colony in the Americas, offered to sell all of Louisiana for $15 million. The United States agreed and acquired with its purchase from France a doubling of its land area, control of the Mississippi River, and a new dominance on the North American continent.

The war between Britain and France resumed in 1803, and after 1805, the United States became involved in the hostilities. The British announced a blockade of the lands held by Napoleon, which they partly carried out by seizing American ships, cargoes, and sailors just outside of American ports. Britain's primary aim was the defeat of Napoleon, and it was willing to risk war with the United States to do so. Napoleon in turn sent privateers to seize any neutral ships that obeyed the British blockade, and after 1807 Napoleon captured more American ships than the British. The United States declared war on Britain in 1812, and when the war was settled in 1814, little had been gained by either side.

Lafayette returned to the United States for a year-long triumphal tour in 1824. Wherever Lafayette went, he was met by large crowds and great public acclaim as Americans recalled the debt they owed to France for its help in the American Revolution. Another democratic French aristocrat, Alexis de Tocqueville, came to the United States in 1831 to observe America's democratic institutions. In 1835 and 1840, he published volumes one and two of Democracy in America, which has endured as a highly respected work of political analysis.

Relations between the United States and France were strained by the actions of Napoleon III during the American Civil War (1861–1865). The emperor sought to acquire territory in Central and South America while the United States was not in a position to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. He installed the Archduke Maximilian of Austria as emperor of Mexico. The American government withheld recognition of this puppet government, at the same time informing France that there was no threat of

war in this action. When the Civil War ended, French troops left Mexico and Maximilian was executed.

Napoleon III's government having been overthrown, in the early 1870s a group of French republican partisans conceived the idea of a gift to the United States of a large statue of liberty as a republican symbol, its purposes being to show respect for American democracy and to encourage Americans to support the republican form of government in France. The sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to make the giant statue and Congress authorized Bedloe's Island (later Liberty Island) in New York Harbor as its site. The Statue of Liberty, dedicated in 1886, is a primary symbol of American freedom.

The Twentieth Century: A Sometimes Uneasy Alliance

In 1914 Germany declared war on France and Russia, and England declared war on Germany. France took up the battle with enthusiasm and a strong desire for revenge for the humiliating French defeat at Germany's hands in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. From its inception, World War I produced staggering losses of life and was at an impasse in April 1917, when the United States—abandoning its neutral position—declared war on Germany. The spring offensive of the French had ended in failure and mutiny. Their new commander, Henri Philippe Petain, was at the end of his resources. As American troops began pouring into France Colonel Charles E. Stanton announced upon his arrival: "Lafayette, we are here." The Germans launched their last offensive in March 1918. The Allies, in a united effort under French marshall Ferdinand Foch, slowly drove the Germans out of France.

President Woodrow Wilson reduced France's demands for the subjugation of Germany after World War I by agreeing, with Great Britain, to guarantee French security against any future German invasion. The U.S. Senate refused to uphold this guarantee when it declined to ratify the Treaty of Versailles in 1918; consequently, Britain was also released from its obligation. The relations between France and the United States continued to be strained in the 1920s as the latter demanded that the French pay war debts to her that they could not afford. The British mostly ignored France's problems in the interwar years, and with the United States retreating into isolationism, France was left to stand alone against possible German aggression.

France's fears became a nightmarish reality when Hitler rapidly conquered France in June 1940. Germany took Alsace-Lorraine and occupied northern and western France. Unoccupied France, with its capital at Vichy, became an ally of Germany. The French general Charles de Gaulle formed a government in exile based in London while underground Resistance fighters harassed the Germans in France. The United States brought its economic and military strength to bear against European fascism and Japanese imperialism between 1942 and 1945 and with the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom and its dominions, defeated Germany and its allies, Japan and Italy.

After World War II, France was in economic crisis, and its voters turned to socialism and even communism for solutions to its problems. The Marshall Plan was created by the Truman administration to help the countries of Western Europe. As the economy of France recovered with the help of American aid, the influence of communism declined.

Jean-Paul Sartre, a French intellectual who championed the working classes and who was part of the French Resistance during World War II, was influential in encouraging anti-Americanism in France in the period after the war. Sartre hated the preeminence of the middle class in the United States. Like de Gaulle, he was strongly opposed to American political, military, and cultural hegemony in Europe. He accused the United States of deploying germ warfare in the Korean War and joined Bertrand Russell in investigating alleged American war crimes in the Vietnam War. Sartre's anti-Americanism was echoed by other postwar French intellectuals, who feared the loss of France's integrity in the face of American economic and industrial strength.

The nationalist policies of Charles de Gaulle, who served as president of France from 1959 to 1969, challenged American hegemony in world power. De Gaulle envisioned France in a new role as the head of a third force that would stand between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1959 de Gaulle began removing French troops from NATO and by 1967 had withdrawn all of them. He then demanded that all other NATO forces, including those controlling American nuclear weapons, leave France. De Gaulle initiated a French nuclear development program, and in 1960 France conducted its first atomic bomb test.

De Gaulle also resisted the influence of the United States within the European Common Market, where he blocked the entry of Britain, the United States' closest ally. Gaullism lived on in France after 1969. François Mitterand, who was president from 1981 to 1995, refused in 1986 to allow U.S. planes based in Britain to fly over France to bomb Libya. While this refusal provoked a surge of anti-French sentiment in the United States, Gaullism allowed the French to recover their shattered pride, preserve their unique qualities, and become stronger and more independent.

When the Socialist Party lost its parliamentary majority in France in 1986, the conservative Jacques Chirac became prime minister and then was elected president in 1995 and again in 2002. By the early 1990s France had become much more closely tied to the United States and NATO and had begun cooperating with American foreign policy. Also, France was moving away from Gaullism by becoming an integral part of the European Union. In the late twentieth century a rightward political shift occurred in France, as evidenced by the surprising popularity of Jean-Marie Le Pen's fascistic Front National, which espoused withdrawal from the European Union, closing France's borders to immigration, deporting all nonnaturalized immigrants, and eliminating the income tax.

The French have continued to resist incursions of American culture such as fast food restaurants and Disneyland, and they dislike any Americanization of their language. Nevertheless, there have always been many cultural connections between France and the United States. American writers, jazz musicians, and performing artists have often taken their talents to Paris and other parts of France, where they have found receptive audiences. There has been a lively and ongoing mutual admiration of each other's film industries and Americans admire and emulate French culture's many facets but particularly its cuisine, fashion, and art. And although it acted long after the American Revolution, the United States Congress in July 2002 voted to make the Marquis de La Fayette an honorary U.S. citizen. Lafayette is only the sixth person in the history of the country to receive this special recognition.


Bernstein, Richard. Fragile Glory: A Portrait of France and the French. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Bernier, Olivier. Words of Fire, Deeds of Blood: The Mob, the Monarchy, and the French Revolution. Boston: Little, Brown, 1989.

Judt, Tony. Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944–1956. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. New York: Random House, 1987.

McCullough, David. John Adams. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Rosenblum, Mort. Mission to Civilize: The French Way. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

Zeldin, Theodore. France 1848–1945: Intellect and Pride. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.


See alsoDemocracy in America (Tocqueville) ; France, Quasi-War with ; French in the American Revolution ; French Decrees ; Louisiana Purchase ; Marshall Plan ; Mexico, French in ; North Atlantic Treaty Organization ; Statue of Liberty ; Versailles, Treaty of ; World War I ; World War II ; XYZ Affair .

France, Relations with

views updated May 18 2018


If the first official contact between France and Russia was established in 1049, when the daughter of Yaroslav, prince of Kiev, married Henri, King of France, bilateral relations were established with the treaty of friendship signed in 1613 by King Louis XIII and Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich. Since then, cultural exchanges regularly expanded, most notably during the reigns of Peter the Great and Elizabeth. However, on political and economic grounds, the exchanges remained thus: England retained primacy in Russian foreign trade throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and on the diplomatic scene, despite common geopolitical interests, France and Russia were quite often the victims of mutual hostile stereotypes. In 1793, embittered by France's radical revolution, Catherine II broke all diplomatic relations with the revolutionary state; and in 1804, despite the treaty of nonaggression concluded in 1801 with Napoleon, Alexander I joined the Third Coalition to defeat the "usurper," his political ambitions, and his expansionism. The war against Napoleon (18051813) was a national disaster, marked by several cruel defeats and by the fire of Moscow in 1812, but Alexander's victory, marked by his entrance into Paris in March 1814, gave him a decisive role during the Congress of Vienna.

The second half of the nineteenth century brought a major change in Russian-French relations. If France took part in the humiliating Crimean War in 18541856, during the late 1860s reconciliation began to take place and, in 1867 and 1868, the Russian Empire participated in the universal exhibitions organized in Paris. Political and military concerns motivated a decisive rapprochement during the last third of the century: France, traumatized by the loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, desperately needed an ally against Bismarck's Prussia, while for Alexander III's Russia, the goal was to gain an ally against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which opposed the Russian pan-Slavic ambitions in the Balkans. In December 1888, the first Russian loan was raised in Paris and three years later, in August 1891, the two countries concluded a political alliance, followed by a military convention in December 1893. To sanctify the rapprochement, Tsar Nicholas II visited France three times, in October 1896, September 1901, and July 1909; and in July 1914, President Poincaré visited Russia to reinforce the alliance on the eve of World War I.

The October 1917 Revolution killed these privileged links. The Bolsheviks opted for a peace with no annexing and no indemnityand refused to recognize the tsarist loans. As a result, the French state felt deceived, and in December 1917, it broke relations with Russia and engaged instead in a struggle against it. In the spring of 1918, France organized the unloading of forces to support the White Guard and took part in the Polish war against Russia (MayOctober 1920). However, these interventions failed to overthrow the Soviet regime and, by the end of 1919, French diplomacy opted for a policy of containment against the expansion of communism. By that time, French-Soviet contacts were reduced: the French presence in the USSR was limited to the settlement of a small group of radical intellectuals and to the visits of French Communists; similarly, there was no official Soviet presence in France, although communist intellectuals and artists continued actively promoting Soviet interests and values.

In 1924 Edouard Herriot, chief of the French government, decided to recognize the USSR. While he had no illusion about the authoritarian nature of the Soviet regime, he thought that France could no longer afford to ignore such an important country politically and that the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922 could be dangerous. Therefore, for geopolitical reasons, he chose to reestablish diplomatic relations.

This decision gave rise to a rapid growth of economic, commercial, and cultural exchanges. In particular, Soviet artists became increasingly present in France: Maxim Gorky and Ilya Ehrenburg, for example, became brilliant spokesmen for the Socialist literature. However, this improvement was a fragile one and remained subject to diplomatic turbulences, due to Fascism and Nazism. Foreign

Commissar Maxim Litvinov tried to bring the USSR closer to France and England, but French hesitation, demonstrated by the ambivalent French-Soviet treaty concluded in May 1935 and the lack of strong reaction to the Spanish Civil War, led Josef Stalin to conclude an alliance with Adolf Hitler instead. And on August 23, 1939, the conclusion of the Soviet-German Pact sanctified the collapse of the Soviet-French entente.

Bilateral relations were reestablished during World War II. In September 1941, three months after the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin decided to recognize General Charles de Gaulle officially as the "Chief of Free France"; in December 1944 in Moscow, de Gaulle and Stalin signed a treaty of alliance and mutual assistance. However, the Cold War, which began to spread over Europe in 1946, had deep consequences for Soviet-French relations, and in 1955 the Soviet state denounced the treaty of 1944.

In 1956 Nikita Khrushchev's proclaimed de-Stalinization was favorably received by French diplomacy, and in the same year the head of the French government, Guy Mollet, made a trip to the USSR. This trip reestablished contacts and led to a protocol on cultural exchanges. But from 1958 on, de Gaulle's return to power brought a new dynamic to relations with Moscow. De Gaulle wished to encourage "détente." In his view, this would restore France's international significance. In June 1966, he signed several important bilateral agreements with the USSR. Two committees were designed to improve economic cooperation; cooperation was also planned for space, civil nuclear, and television programs; and an original form of cooperation took place in the movie industry.

These agreements conferred a distinct flavor on bilateral relations: in contrast to the American-Soviet dialogue, which remained limited to strategic issues, the French-Soviet détente was in essence more global and covered a wide variety of areas of mutual interest. Political cooperation, economic and scientific exchanges, cultural exhibits, performers' tours, and movie festivals all contributed to build a bridge between the two countries.

Perestroika brought a new impulse to these relations. When Mikhail Gorbachev introduced drastic changes in March 1985, François Mitterrand's diplomacy first hesitated but, after a few months, provided strong support for the new leader; and in October 1990, a bilateral treaty of friendshipthe first since 1944was signed.

The collapse of the USSR imposed another yet another series of geopolitical and cultural changes on the new leaders. But these changes had little impact on the long-lasting structural bonds forged with France through the centuries.

See also: french influence in russia; french war of 1812; napoleon i; polish-soviet war; tilsit, treaty of; world war i; world war ii


Shlapentokh, Dmitry. (1996). The French Revolution in Russian Intellectual Life, 18651905. Westport, CT: Prager.

Marie-Pierre Rey

France, relations with

views updated May 11 2018

France, relations with. From the Norman Conquest of 1066 England was involved in a series of French wars arising out of the continental possessions (and claims) of the Norman and still more of the Angevin kings. The wine trade with Bordeaux was greatly valued. The Hundred Years War began in 1337, and in 1420 Henry V was recognized as the heir to the French throne. Disaster speedily followed, and by 1453 only Calais remained in English hands (it was finally lost in 1558). Meanwhile the French used the Auld Alliance with Scotland to add to English embarrassments.

A new era of Anglo-French conflict began in the later 17th cent. when under Louis XIV France emerged as the most formidable kingdom in Europe. In the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–13) Britain secured Gibraltar, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, and confirmed her position as a great power. The War of the Austrian Succession (1740–8) and the Seven Years War (1756–63) made Britain the leading European force in North America and India. The French obtained partial revenge when their intervention in the War of American Independence (1776–83) hastened the loss of the colonies. Despite the fears aroused in Britain by the radical political and social ideas of the French revolutionaries, the wars from 1793 to 1815 were essentially a continuation of those waged over the balance of power in Europe, colonies, and naval supremacy. France was finally defeated in 1814–15, although Castlereagh was careful to ensure that she remained strong enough to play a major role in the balance of power.

For the rest of the century the British continued to rank France (along with Russia) above all the states which posed a threat to their interests. The two fought on the same side in the Crimean War, but it needed the resolution of colonial rivalries to bring about the Entente of 1904, and it was solidly cemented only by the growing fear of Germany. France became the main battleground for the British army in the 1914–18 war. Yet relations soon deteriorated after 1919 in both Europe and the Middle East. Even the advent of Hitler failed to produce a close alliance until 1939. The dramatic fall of France followed in June 1940. At the end of the war Britain was the victorious power most interested in the revival of her neighbour, but the Soviet threat soon aligned Britain much more closely to the USA. The ill-conceived Anglo-French bid to overthrow the Nasser regime in Egypt in 1956 ended in tears, while President de Gaulle vetoed two belated British attempts to join the European Economic Community (in 1963 and 1967). Even after entry in 1973 Britain remained too semi-detached in her policies to satisfy the French.

C. J. Bartlett

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